noun pl. ta·boos,
- A ban or inhibition resulting from social custom or emotional aversion.
a. A prohibition, especially in Polynesia and other South Pacific islands, excluding something from use, approach, or mention because of its sacred and inviolable nature.
b. An object, word, or act protected by such a prohibition.
Excluded or forbidden from use, approach, or mention: a taboo subject.
transitive verbta·booed, ta·boo·ing, ta·boos,
also ta·bued ta·bu·ing ta·bus
To exclude from use, approach, or mention; place under taboo.
Origin of taboo
Tongan tabu under prohibition from
Proto-Polynesian tapu Word History:
The word taboo
first appears in English in the journals of Captain James Cook, the British explorer who led three expeditions to the Pacific Ocean and greatly broadened European knowledge about the peoples living on the Pacific islands. In 1777, Cook wrote that the word “taboo … has a very comprehensive meaning; but, in general, signifies that a thing is forbidden&ellipsis4; When any thing is forbidden to be eat, or made use of, they say, that it is
Cook was in Tonga at the time, and so it is the Tongan form tabu
that is the source of the English word taboo
. However, words related to Tongan tabu
are found in other Polynesian languages, such as Maori tapu
and Hawaiian kapu.
(In the history of Hawaiian, the original Polynesian t
-sound has regularly changed to a k
-sound.) Other words Cook brought back from his journeys include tattoo
(also of Polynesian origin) and kangaroo
(from Guugu Yimidhirr, a language of Australia).
- An inhibition or ban that results from social custom or emotional aversion.
- (in Polynesia) Something which may not be used, approached or mentioned because it is sacred.
(comparative more taboo, superlative most taboo)
- Excluded or forbidden from use, approach or mention.
- Incest is a taboo subject in most soap operas.
- Culturally forbidden.
(third-person singular simple present taboos, present participle tabooing, simple past and past participle tabooed)
- To mark as taboo.
- To ban.
- To avoid.
Tongan tapu (“prohibited"). The word entered English around 1777. Ultimately from Proto-Polynesian *tapu.